Girls who give Sky high kicks: Owen Slot meets a team of dancers who have charmed their way through many a defence - Life and Style - The Independent

Girls who give Sky high kicks: Owen Slot meets a team of dancers who have charmed their way through many a defence

ON MONDAY night, the football season ended for the Sky Strikers. The gyrating hips of these 14 young women have been providing pre-match and half-time entertainment for Sky Sports' Monday-night games since August. Their season's results make pretty good reading: played, 25; won, practically all of them; lost, one, to Arsenal.

The Arsenal crowd gave them a rough time. When the Strikers ran out at Highbury stadium on 28 September, the crowd booed; when they ran off, the crowd booed again. In between, when the girls were dancing, all spins and high kicks, there emanated from the stands the chant: 'Get your tits out for the boys.' That chant followed them round the country during the season.

At the Arsenal game, the Strikers, unwittingly, were wearing white with a touch of blue and yellow - pretty close to the strip of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal's arch rivals - and thus there came the volley of abuse usually reserved for Spurs fans: 'Yiddoes, Yiddoes'. The Arsenal fans went one better when the Strikers returned three months later, wearing white with a touch of red, pretty much Arsenal's own strip: their chant changed to, 'Are you Yiddoes in disguise?'.

In fact, several of the Strikers are. Tottenham fans, that is. Karen's father is Dave Butler, the Spurs physiotherapist; another of the girls, Wendy, is still being teased about her disappointment at the start of the season when the Strikers' appearance at White Hart Lane, Tottenham's ground, was cancelled due to bad weather; and then there is Debbie, Wendy's elder sister, who is captain of the team and married to their choreographer, Peyton Martin.

The Strikers are all professional dancers and take other assignments (dancing jobs, fashion shows, television commercials). They each make around pounds 200 per performance. The youngest is 18, the oldest 33.

Debbie is a calm leader of women. When she manages to make herself heard over her noisy pack, there is all-round agreement that they are generally oblivious to the sexist chants from the terraces, saying it goes straight over their heads. 'I don't mind the 'Get your tits out',' says Debbie. 'If I had them, I'd show 'em]' In fact, says Sandy, another of the more experienced dancers, they have a planned riposte up their sleeves: a routine where they would all wear fake chests and rip them off in the middle of a number.

Sandy's experience goes beyond the dancefloor: she trained as a stuntwoman, she can fence, baton-twirl and springboard-dive, and she sings on an independent record label based in south London.

At a Norwich game, Sandy spotted three girls swearing at her. As they became more hostile, the obscenities got worse. Eventually they ran down to the side of the pitch as if to make for her. At the last minute, security guards stepped in. But Sandy had momentarily faced a dilemma: should she run or stand her ground? What her would-be assailants didn't know was that Sandy was an accomplished martial artist and could have done them real damage.

With the possibility of such an extreme reaction from female fans, you can't help questioning whether dancing girls are quite the tonic required for the predominantly male English football audience. When the Strikers have danced in front of rugby league fans, the reaction has been noisy but polite. The London Monarchs' American football fans gave an enthusiastic reception to a similar show from their cheerleaders, the Crown Jewels, two of whom are now Sky Strikers. But football fans? They riot in Sweden and invade pitches in Manchester, and are unlikely to appreciate the difference between a demi-plie and a Demi Moore. The point, says Raymond Jaffe, who commissions the entertainment for Sky Sports, is to bring 'an entertainment angle that is different to the norm', to make matches an event rather than a 90-minute game of football. He has seen how it works in the United States and believes that this is the way to bring families into British football grounds.

Pop groups were tried unsuccessfully - the Shamen were booed at Arsenal, Curiosity were on to a loser at Southampton where they decided to play in Chelsea shirts - but the Strikers have been regulars all season. Mr Jaffe is convinced they are part of a formula that has seen Monday-night crowds on average 13 per cent up on the clubs' normal attendances. Some clubs have asked how they can organise similar entertainment on a regular basis. Sky Sports, meanwhile, has been fielding fan mail from seven-year-olds asking how they can become Sky Strikers.

On Monday afternoon, the Strikers were preparing for their Ipswich Town debut, in a game against Norwich. They were a little nervous, but confident. Northern crowds, Blackburn especially, have been their most appreciative, but Norwich is also a favourite: the reverse fixture, Norwich vs Ipswich in December, was one of their most successful, despite Sandy's experience.

The weekend had been spent learning new routines - they do three numbers, two new ones per match - and after nearly three days together (for the rest of the week they do whatever other work comes their way) there is still a lot of noise, a lot of laughter. Do their husbands and boyfriends mind them being booked up at weekends? 'Who cares?' says Suzanne. More laughter.

Suzanne is the joker of the pack, insisting that she is the biggest eater, and reminding everyone of their Christmas party when she asked Andy Gray, the Sky Sports football commentator and former Scotland international, if he'd played much football before. Again, peals of laughter, but none of the cattiness you might expect from a group together for so long. They are a united bunch; to a person, they believe that Chris Waddle should be playing for England. There is just the odd faint moan: from the Spurs fans about Arsenal's victory in the Coca-Cola Cup Final the previous day.

At 7pm it is time for the first number. There are still 45 minutes until kick-off but already there is something of a crowd, many of whom say they have come early for the pre- match entertainment. The dancing goes down well, especially with an impressive firework display behind it; then there is Bart Simpson, who brings the home supporters to their feet when he runs down the touchline holding up an Ipswich shirt, and the show is complete with the arrival of the Red Devils parachutists.

By the time their half-time session arrives, the girls are relaxed in the knowledge that the crowd is enjoying it - almost as responsive as Blackburn. The supporters sang through a lot of the dancing, but no breast requests today. The Strikers wouldn't have minded anyway.

(Photographs omitted)

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week